By Edith Honan
NEW YORK, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Support for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, which soared over his handling of Superstorm Sandy, has fallen almost 20 points since his landslide re-election in November as he faces probes into the conduct of his top aides.
The brash and charismatic Christie is widely seen as a top Republican contender for the White House in 2016, and the brewing scandals in his home state are the biggest political challenge he has faced yet.
Christie's approval rating among New Jersey voters, at 65 percent just before he was re-elected last year, dipped to 46 percent favorable to 43 percent unfavorable, according to the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
In the heavily Democratic state, support for Christie remains high among Republicans and independents, while support fell 26 points among Democrats.
The poll was conducted after Christie removed two top aides for their role in orchestrating huge traffic jams near the busy George Washington Bridge, apparently to settle a political score. The surveying was partly complete when new allegations were brought last week by the Democratic Mayor of Hoboken that Christie withheld storm recovery funds for political reasons.
Christie has said he had no direct knowledge of the bridge incident, and his office has strongly denied Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's allegations.
Voters' views on Christie's performance as governor, which hovered between 66 percent and 73 percent in the year after Sandy battered the state in late 2012, now stands at 53 percent, the poll found.
"The good will the governor built up among Democrats with his handling of the Sandy aftermath is gone, at least for now," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University.
Christie's ratings were especially low among regular users of the George Washington Bridge, where the closings of two access lanes from Fort Lee caused hours-long snarls over four days in September.
Among those who use the bridge connecting northern New Jersey and Manhattan at least once a week, just 37 percent had a favorable view of the governor. Among New Jersey voters who never use the bridge, 51 percent had a favorable view.
The poll of 826 New Jersey adults was conducted from Jan. 14 to Jan. 19 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. A sub-sample of 757 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.